LGBT History Month – Individual Lives

In the UK LGBT History month is every February, and this month I have a few posts lined up exploring different aspects of queer history. This week I’ll be looking at individuals throughout history and some fascinating books exploring their lives.

If you haven’t already, check out my previous post on Oscar Wilde, and some great books that will give you a new understanding on his life.

Fanny and Stella

Photograph of Fanny and Stella

Fanny and Stella were also known as Ernest Boulton and Frederick Park, and in 1870 they made front page headlines after their trial at Bow Street Magistrates for “the abominable crime of buggery”. The two were put on trial to make an example of them, but dressing up as a woman in public wouldn’t give them much more than a warning, which is why the trial attempted to prove a physical relationship between the two, something for which the prosecutors lacked evidence or anyone willing to stand up in court to speak against them. They were eventually found not guilty.

A good place to start to get a feel for Victorian England and the world they lived in, is in The Petticoat Men by Barbara Ewing, which tells their story through the eyes of their landlady. This novel should give you an appetite to delve deeper into their lives, and you should pick up Neil McKenna‘s book Fanny & Stella. He reconstructs the lives the two, to tell a compelling story of how Fanny and Stella came into existence. He also provides rich and vivid detail of the lives of their friends in Victorian England.

 

George Villiers

Portrait of George Villiers
First Duke of Buckingham, patron of the arts, courtier, and lover of King James I/VI. Often times George is referred to as the “favourite of King James” or as the “alleged lover”, but James once said of George “You may be sure that I love Buckingham more than anyone else”, and in a letter to the King, George wrote “I naturally so love your person, and adore all your other parts, which are more than ever one man had”. So I will, as many great historians have said, call Gay on this relationship.

George rose to power within James’ court and quickly became a force to be reckoned with. You can read a fascinating biography of George in The King’s Assassin: The Fatal Affair of George Villiers and James I by Benjamin Woolley, and explore the theory that the death of James was possibly at the hands of his lover.

 

Anne Lister

Throughout her life Anne Lister, a Yorkshire landowner and traveller, kept diaries written in a secret code that was only uncovered after her death. The diaries include details of her finances, industrial activities on her land, and her lesbian relationships. The diaries are a fascinating insight into the daily life of a wealthy, independent, woman in the early 19th Century, but they also offer a glimpse into the love lives of women, and Anne’s fascinating seduction techniques.

You can read her de-coded diaries, and understand this fascinating woman in her own words, in The Secret Diaries of Anne Lister. It was this edition of her diaries that the 2010 BBC drama, starring Maxine Peake as Anne, was based on. A new biography of Anne was published last year: Gentleman Jack: A Biography of Anne Lister, Regency Landowner, Seducer and Secret Diarist by Angela Steidele and a new TV production also called Gentleman Jack is set to air sometime in 2019.


If you want to purchase any of these titles you can do so using the affiliate on the book covers below, which helps keep this site up and running:

 

 

 

 

 

 

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You can also enquire at these UK LGBTQ bookshops and ask them to order in copies:
Gay’s The Word; Category Is Books.

LGBTQ Short Stories

I talk so much about novels, how about this week we have a look at some short stories instead?

I don’t know why I don’t read more short stories, because I really love them when I do take the time to read them. I’m going to try to read more this year. This post will feature some books I’ve already read, and ones I want to get around to.

First up is the brilliant A Portable Shelter from Kirsty Logan. I am a huge fan of Kirsty’s work, and absolutely adore her novels. Kirsty is gifted at telling dark, mysterious, unusual stories that have a depth, richness, and mystery unlike anything I’ve read before.

A Portable Shelter is a linked collection of stories. Liska and Ruth are waiting for the birth of their first child, and they tell stories to the baby, vowing to only speak the truth. Stories of circuses, selkie fishermen, werewolves, child-eating witches and broken-toothed dragons, all woven into the fabric of Liska and Ruth’s relationship within each other, and their hopes for their unborn child.

This is truly a magical collection. You can also find more Kirsty Logan short stories in The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales.

 

 

All Out: The No-Longer-Secret Stories of Queer Teens Throughout the Ages is a collection by of historical fiction by multiple authors. This collection includes seventeen stories and I’ve read some of them, but not all yet – I will get around to finishing it soon.

There is a great variety in the settings, style, and genre of the stories, but one thing they all have in common is that the characters are all queer teens. A fantastic addition to your short story collections.

 

 

Proud anthologyI definitely have to include the upcoming Proud anthology in this post. I know I’ve talked about it before, and I’ll talk about it more when it comes out, but it is such an excellent YA collection.

I’ve not finished every story yet but the ones I have read have made me laugh and cry. Each story comes with a fantastic illustration and the collection also features some poetry.

It’s out in March and you can pre-order now.

 

 

 

 

I should definitely follow up Proud with another queer anthology, and that is We Were Always Here. I haven’t yet read it and I don’t yet own a copy, but it’s on it’s way to me because I pre-ordered it so fast I nearly fell off the sofa! This is an anthology created by independent publishers 404 Ink, and is a collection of stories and poems celebrating the diversity of Scottish queer experiences.

You can pre-order it direct from the publishers now, and it’s official release date is 31st January.

 

 

 

I’m going to end by recommending a single short story, rather than a collection.

Superior by Jessica Lack is the most adorable, brilliantly written, m/m superhero story, in which a superhero’s intern falls in love with a supervillain’s apprentice.  It’s a long short story (or a short novella depending on your opinion) and is unfortunately only available to download from Amazon, but it’s definitely worth it.

 

 

That’s all for this week’s recommendations. Let me know if you’ve read any of these books, and what you thought of them. If you have more suggestions of LGBTQ short stories comment on this post or come chat to me on Twitter.


If you want to purchase any of these titles you can do so using the affiliate links below, which helps keep this site up and running:

A Portable Shelter by Kirsty Logan
The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales by Kirsty Logan
All Out: The No-Longer-Secret Stories of Queer Teens Throughout the Ages – Anthology
Proud – Anthology
Superior by Jessica Lack

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You can also enquire at these UK LGBTQ bookshops and ask them to order in copies: Gay’s The Word; Category Is Books.

 

When Everything Feels Like The Movies by Raziel Reid

“unrealistic and overly vulgar”, “unnecessary, overly-sexualised”, “so explicit, crude and vulgar”, “entirely inappropriate” – these are just a few of my favourite quotes that I found online referring to the 2015 Raziel Reid novel When Everything Feels Like The Movies. If those kind of reviews don’t make you want to read this brilliant novel, then let me try and convince you some more.

I first read this way back before it’s publication and I loved it, including the shocking ending which – knowing nothing about the true story the book was based on – I was not expecting. I’ve been thinking about this book recently – after reading and totally adoring Jack of Hearts (and other parts) last year – and how sometimes books appear before the time is right for them, and Reid’s novel I think definitely fits into this category.

Just like Jack, Jude (the main character of When Everything Feels Like The Movies) is flamboyant, fabulous, unapologetically queer, lover of sex, and passionate about living his life honestly. The story unfolds in an American junior high school, where Jude sees his life as a movie set, and the people around him as characters in his central drama, bringing to colourful life the drab town he calls home.

The book initially received rave reviews but soon a backlash took place after it was awarded the Governor General’s Award for Children’s Literature. A petition eventually gaining more than 2000 signatures called it a “values-void novel” and the petition’s instigator said “Jude’s sexual yearnings, masturbating, fantasising…and voyeurism constitute the bulk of the narrative”.

Here is a book that depicts the realistic sexual fantasies (and realities) of teenagers and received a lot of negative criticism because the main character is talking about gay sex. There are two main criticisms that negative reviews of the book has, first is that the sexual activity of the teens is unrealistic, and secondly that it is inappropriate for young people to read about sex.

Firstly: teens are having sex, and this includes gay teens. Get over it. Ignoring sex in fiction is not going to make them stop doing it. Isn’t it better that books offer a realistic representation of safe consensual sex? Just because it’s queer doesn’t make it inherently bad.

Jack of Hearts book coverSecondly, the negativity from adults in relation to books like this always comes from a complete lack of trust. There is no trust that young people reading books such as When Everything Feels Like The Movies or Jack of Hearts will be able to read these books without acting out the activities in them before they are ready to do so. Just because a character talks openly and honestly about gay sex does not mean every teen reading it is going to do those things. A novel like this, expertly written with a realistic sounding teen voice, is able to educate by presenting a character who does experience life and have normal thoughts the same as those young people reading it.

In 2015 when it was first released, When Everything Feels Like The Movies felt like it was on an island by itself – there wasn’t a whole lot of YA queer literature, and it felt almost too realistic for many people to believe. I would love to see how the book would do now, and would recommend that you give it a read if you haven’t yet done so. There are so few representations of queer life (and sex) in books for young people, that it is still refreshing to see this in a novel. Young people reading books need to see themselves represented, and they need to see all aspects of life portrayed.

The end of When Everything Feels Like The Movies is shocking, and may be too upsetting for many people, but I don’t think that detracts from the book. Rather the opposite, here is a book that shows bullying and violence towards a young queer boy but refuses to place the blame for that on Jude himself. This is vital for young people to realise, that they are not to blame. For me, Jack of Hearts is a natural accompaniment to Raziel Reid’s novel. I would hate for publishing to get stuck in one narrative for LGBTQ YA books (or queer fiction more generally) where we only see happy endings and cute stories. Yes, it’s important we have these stories, but it’s also important we show what reality is for many LGBTQ people. This book won’t appeal to everyone, and it hasn’t been written for everyone, but Simon Vs isn’t suited to everyone’s taste either. There is room on the shelves for a full plethora of queer stories, and When Everything Feels Like The Movies deserves to be there too.

I’d love to know if you’ve read When Everything Feels Like The Movies, and what you thought of it. Leave a comment on this post, or come find me on Twitter to chat.

You can buy all the books mentioned in this post, but if you’re in the UK the physical copy of Jack of Hearts is out in February:

When Everything Feels Like The Movies by Raziel Reid
Jack of Hearts (and other parts) by L.C. Rosen
Simon Vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli 

A new look at Oscar Wilde

If, like me, you’re a life long Oscar Wilde fan and you think you already know everything about him – think again, and pick up a copy of Making Oscar Wilde by Michèle Mendelssohn. It will completely change the way you think about Oscar.

The book takes us back to the start, right when Oscar was making the journey from Ireland to come and study in Oxford. It details his rather unimpressive academic career, and paints an entirely different picture than the one many (Oscar included) would have us believe of the impact he made during his time there. We then travel to America, to the real heart of the journey this book is taking us on, through Oscar’s now infamous tour of America. You may be aware of the highly quotable things he said on his lecture tour of America, but perhaps less aware of the anti-Irish, racist sentiment that followed him around. The book explores how Oscar stumbled through a less than successful tour, plagued by dubious promoters that were as keen to see him succeed as they were to make money from parodying him.

This book will show you an Oscar unlike any you’ve read about before. It primarily focuses on his American tour, and therefore the final few chapters exploring his return to England, and his eventual arrest, imprisonment and death, are quite rushed and lacking in the rich, vivid, detail the rest of the book has. Don’t let that put you off, this is a book worth every moment of your time.

If you want more Oscar to follow on from that, I’ve got a few more recommendations of excellent books detailing more about his life.

The Wilde Album by Merlin Holland is a veritable treasure trove of Oscar photographs, art, and artefacts, with the life of Oscar told by his grandson Merlin. It is a brilliant little book for any Wilde fan, which is why it’s totally devastating that it is no longer in print. Published in 1997 by Fourth Estate, you get still get hold of second-hand copies of this book online, and it’s definitely worth hitting up your local library to see if they have a copy.

 

 

 

Another excellent Merlin Holland edited work is The Real Trial of Oscar Wilde. Reading the full transcript of what happened in Oscar’s own words is gripping and heartbreaking. This edition gives the full details of both cases that resulted in Oscar’s eventual imprisonment.

And finally, no list of Oscar Wilde recommendations would be complete without recommending some of his work. There are great editions of The Picture of Dorian Gray available now, I especially like this Penguin clothbound edition (you know I love a fancy hardback book!) If you haven’t yet read any of Oscar’s short stories, check out The Happy Prince and other stories from Macmillan.

But my top recommendation has to be the Penguin classics collection De Profundis and other prison writings. This is a brilliant selection of Oscar’s poetry and letters from his time in Reading Gaol and isn’t an easy read, but I can’t recommend it more highly.

 

Let me know if you’ve read Making Oscar Wilde, or your thoughts on anything else Oscar related. Leave a comment here or come find me on Twitter. I was going to finish off with the ultimate cliche and give you an Oscar Wilde quote but instead here’s a tiny part of one of my favourite Oscar poems:

I never saw sad men who looked
With such a wistful eye
Upon that little tent of blue
We prisoners called the sky,
And at every careless cloud that passed
In happy freedom by.
But there were those amongst us all
Who walked with downcast head,
And knew that, had each got his due,
They should have died instead:
He had but killed a thing that lived,
Whilst they had killed the dead.

The Ballad of Reading Gaol

The Wicked Cometh by Laura Carlin

The Wicked Cometh

I remember the first time I heard about The Wicked Cometh on Twitter: “lesbian victorian detectives” someone said, and I was sold!  It’s not a very thorough or entirely accurate description of this novel by Laura Carlin, but it’s not far wrong.

In London, 1831, Hester White is desperate to escape the slums by any means available to her. She is thrown into the world of the Brock family, and is drawn to the mysterious Rebekah Brock.

This is a dark and atmospheric thriller that takes the reader on a journey through the unravelling of secrets in a plot twist heavy narrative. I loved the descriptions of London and how brilliantly Laura Carlin is at establishing a strong sense of place and its impact on the characters. It is a slow-paced start and speeds through quickly to its conclusion, but the journey there is lusciously written and will definitely be loved by fans of gothic mysteries.

The paperback has just been released and you can buy it now.

 

 

Off the Shelves: Marriage of a Thousand Lies

Every week in 2019 I’m going to recommend an LGBTQ book to get off your shelves, or off the book shop/library shelves. It’s not just newly published books that deserve love, so I’m going to share my favourites not published in the last 12 months, and if you haven’t yet read them you should check them out.

Marriage of a Thousand Lies
First up is Marriage of a Thousand Lies by SJ Sindu

This 2017 novel follows the story of Sri Lankan-American Lucky and her husband Krishna. The truth of their marriage is a secret only they know: both Lucky and Krishna are gay.

Lucky is forced to return home when her grandmother has a fall and while there she reconnects with her first lover, Nisha. All the old romantic feelings are rekindled but Nisha is about to marry a man. This impending marriage causes confusion for Lucky; she wants to stop Nisha from a marriage based on lies, but Nisha wants to have the comfort and support of her family, something she doesn’t feel she’ll get without the marriage.

Marriage of a Thousand Lies is a moving portrait of family ties, truth, and love. It is a deep exploration of what it means to live truthfully, and the reality many people face of being excluded from their families and communities if they are open about their sexuality. Sindu writes with depth and clarity, never shying away from uncomfortable moments, but instead embracing them with compassion and honesty.

I loved this book and it’s available to buy now from Penguin.

LGBTQ books to read in 2019

My reading list of LGBTQ books to read in the next 12 months is phenomenally long, and will probably only get longer as the year goes on. Rather than list them all here I thought I would pull out a few of the ones I’m most looking forward to getting stuck into. Not all of them are 2019 releases, many have been published for a while, so let me know if you’ve read/enjoyed any of them, and what you’re looking forward to reading.

 

Top LGBTQ books to read in 2019

 

Book cover of House of Impossible BeautiesThe House of Impossible Beauties
Joseph Cassara

Set in the Harlem ballrooms of the 1980s, this book is the fictionalised account of the foundation of the legendary House of Xtravaganza – a love story, a story of identity, a story about finding your own family in an alienating world. It’s available to buy now.

 

 

 

 

 

Tales of the City
Armistead Maupin

I watched the TV series way way back in the day when it was first aired (and I was very young) so I’ve forgotten it all now. I’ve had Tales of the City, More Tales of the City, and Further Tales of the City on my book shelves for most of 2018 and didn’t get around to reading them, so I’m determined this year to get through these absolute classics of queer literature, about a community in 1970s San Francisco, and remind myself of everything that was great about the TV show.

 

 

 

Pulp
Robin Talley

I tried to get started on this at the end of 2018 but fell pray to illness and had to put it to one side. All I hear is people raving about how amazing this book is so I’m looking forward to picking it up again and finishing it. This novel tells two stories of queer women, one from 1955 and one from 2017, and the connection between the generations. It’s available to buy now.

 

 

 

 

Proud anthologyProud

How could I write this list without including the book everyone will want to read in 2019. An anthology of stories, poems, and illustrations by LGBTQ writers and artists, this book is firmly on the top of my to-read pile for 2019.

It features stories and art from: Steve Antony, Dean Atta, Kate Alizadeh, Fox Benwell, Alex Bertie, Caroline Bird, Fatti Burke, Tanya Byrne, Moïra Fowley-Doyle, Frank Duffy, Simon James Green, Leo Greenfield, Saffa Khan, Karen Lawler, David Levithan, Priyanka Meenakshi, Alice Oseman, Michael Lee Richardson, David Roberts, Cynthia So, Kay Staples, Jessica Vallance, Kristen Van Dam and Kameron White.

It’s out 7th March and is available to pre-order now.

 

 

Last Bus to Everland
Sophie Cameron

I can’t wait to read the second novel from Sophie Cameron. I loved Out of the Blue and this one sounds like it’s going to be just as good, just check out the blurb:


Brody Fair has had enough of real life. Enough of the bullies on his block, of being second best to his genius brother, and of not fitting in at school or at home. Then one day he meets Nico. Colourful, confident and flamboyant, he promises to take Brody to Everland, a diverse magical place. A place where he can be himself, where there are no rules, time doesn’t pass, and the party never ends. The only catch? It’s a place so good, you could lose yourself and forget what’s real.

It’s out 16th May and is available to pre-order now.

 

Wonders of the Invisible World
Christpher Barzak

Aidan Lockwood lives in a sleepy farming community known for its cattle ranches and not much else. That is, until Jarrod, a friend he hasn’t seen in years, moves back to town. It’s Jarrod who opens Aidan’s eyes to events he’s long since forgotten, and who awakes in him feelings that go beyond mere friendship. But as Aidan’s memories return, so do some unsettling truths about his family. As Aidan begins to probe into long-buried secrets, the lines between the past and the present, tales and truths, friends and lovers begin to blur, and Aidan will need to confront a family curse before he can lay claim to his life once more.

This is another book that has been on my shelves for a while, but I’m making time for it early in 2019.  It’s available to buy now.

 

How about a book that doesn’t even have a cover yet? I have to include How To Be Remy Cameron by Julian Winters, because I’m pretty sure I’d read anything Julian writes and love it:

“A coming-of-age story about a popular, out-and-proud teen who is assigned to write an essay describing himself, and ends up on a journey to reconcile the labels that people have attached to him.”

Don’t worry, I’ll be the first yelling about this when it’s available for pre-order and there’s a cover ready to show you, but keep an eye out for this brilliant book, it’ll be out in the world on September 10th.

 

Blue Boy
Rakesh Satyal

First published in 2009, this coming of age story about a 12 year old queer Indian boy is one of the first books I’m going to be buying in 2019.

I’ve read some conflicting reviews but most of the negative ones have been boarding on homophobic, which just makes me want to read it more. The paperback is still available to buy.

 

 

 

Dancer from the Dance
Andrew Holleran

Another of those classics of gay literature that I’ve still not read (this one called “one of the most important works of gay literature”), so 2019 should be the year I finally read Andrew Holleran’s about a man looking for love in the New York gay clubs of the mid-1970s. You can buy a copy here.

 

 

 

 

 

What LGBTQ books are you looking forward to reading in 2019?  Let me know, I always need more to add to my shelves (not true, my list is already 75 books long for 2019 – and I’ll review loads of them here!)

Best reads of 2018

I decided to look back on 2018 and write about all the great LGBTQ books I read this year, except I found a bit of a problem with this. I read so many many that the resulting blog post would be longer than anyone wants to read!

This means I’ve had to do the painful task of trying to whittle it down to a top 10 – this was painful, but after weeks of agonising I’ve finally managed it.

If you got some book vouchers for Christmas and don’t know what to spend them on, have a look at the books below, you can’t go far wrong with these. I’ll also be posting my preview of books to look out for in 2019, so if you’ve already read all the books in this post, come back soon for another round of suggestions.

 

Top 10 (in no particular order)

 

Jack of Hearts book coverJack of Hearts (and other parts)
L. C. Rosen

 

Yes, I’m definitely cheating by including this one, as the paperback is still due for release in the UK, but you can buy the US hardback, and get hold of the ebook easily, and you definitely should.

Full of positive representations of gay sex, explorations of the desexualisation of LGBTQ people in order to make them acceptable to a straight cis audience, and a smattering of stalker drama, this YA contemporary novel is perfect to get you thinking, laughing, and being shocked (if you get shocked by descriptions of threesomes). My full review is here. You can preorder the paperback now.

 

 

The Wicked ComethThe Wicked Cometh
Laura Carlin

This gothic historical novel is out in paperback very soon, so I’ll be reviewing it in full in the new year to coincide with that. A story set in London in 1832 about women pushing themselves out of their confined roles, investigating crimes, and loving each other.

 

You can still get hold of the stunning hardback copy in some places, but you can preorder the paperback now.

 

 

 

Skylarks by Karen GregorySkylarks
Karen Gregory


Heart-warming, heart-breaking, brilliantly realistic and honest. Skylarks deals sensitively with poverty, class, and social injustice whilst giving us a slow-burn romance between two teenage girls.

And what’s not to love about a romance that blossoms while working in a library? I honestly couldn’t put this down and was gripped from the first page. Available to buy now.

 

 

 

 

The Absolutist
John Boyne


A novel of the First World War, set in the immediate years after but travelling back to the trenches to tell the story of 20-year-old Tristan and his life, love, and the trauma of war.

It is predictably depressing, as so many historical novels about gay men are, but the realities are handled sensitively and with compassion. Available to buy now.

 

 

 

 

Noah Could Never by Simon James GreenNoah Could Never
Simon James Green


If you’re looking for a break from all the misery of the historical novels I’ve recommended so far, you can’t do better than Simon James Green’s absolutely hilarious novels.

If you’ve not yet read it, get hold of the first book Noah Can’t Even, before moving on to the second instalment in the life of poor Noah Grimes. The YA book is a mystery, an adventure, a romance, and is (of course) full of embarrassing conundrums that Noah will once again fail to deal with very well, it’s available to buy now.

 

 

 

Mussolini’s Island
Sarah Day


Now we’re back to the depressing historical novels, sorry. Set in Italy in 1939, this is a fictionalised account of the true story of an island where gay men were imprisoned. A thriller as well as a deeply moving account of the realities of being a gay man in the 1930s. It is well written and impeccably researched, and is available to buy now.

 

 

 

 

 

Running With Lions by Julian WintersRunning With Lions
Julian Winters


Let’s move right back to the more cheerful contemporary novels, but with no less an important point to make. This YA novel, set in a US soccer summer camp, is a brilliant exploration of the role sports can play in bridging differences, celebrating diversity, and providing the space for a queer summer romance. I can’t wait to read Julian’s next novel, because this debut is outstanding – you can buy it now.

 

 

 

 

Swimming in the Monsoon Sea
Shyam Selvadurai


This 2007 novel was recommended to me by the author of the next book in my list (thanks Sophie!) and quickly became a favourite read this year. Set in the monsoon season in Sri Lanka in 1980, this novel is about a young boy trying to find his place in the world, while falling in love with his Canadian cousin, to the backdrop of the school production of Othello.

This is a tale about family, friendship, sexuality, identity, loyalty, and first love. Selvadurai captures the atmosphere of a time and place perfectly and writes with heartbreaking honesty. It’s available to buy now.

 

 

 

Out of the Blue
Sophie Cameron


Set in Edinburgh during the festival, when angels are falling from the sky (not figuratively), this book is about grief, love, friendship, obsession, and gives great instructions on how you might go about hiding an angel you who’s fallen to earth. A beautiful novel that I can’t recommend more – buy it now.

 

 

 

 

 

The Gloaming
Kirsty Logan

My final recommendation has to be included because everything Kirsty Logan does is exquisite. A magical tale of love and grief, full of fairy tales. The novel also explores family relationships and tensions, it gives a haunting portrayal of the ties that bring us home and those that push us away, and it delves deep into grief. A truly magical tale of love available to buy now.

 

 

I’ll be posting again in the next few days my anticipated reads of 2019 – they won’t all be new releases because older books deserve some love too, come back soon for more LGBTQ reads.

Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts) by L. C. Rosen

Jack of Hearts book coverMeet Jack Rothman. He’s seventeen and loves partying, makeup and boys – sometimes all at the same time. His sex life makes him the hot topic for the high school gossip machine. But who cares? Like Jack always says, ‘it could be worse’. He doesn’t actually expect that to come true.

But after Jack starts writing an online sex advice column, the mysterious love letters he’s been getting take a turn for the creepy. Jack’s secret admirer knows everything: where he’s hanging out, who he’s sleeping with, who his mum is dating. They claim they love Jack, but not his unashamedly queer lifestyle. They need him to curb his sexuality, or they’ll force him.

As the pressure mounts, Jack must unmask his stalker before their obsession becomes genuinely dangerous.

 

 

This book could be one of the most important books published in recent years, if it manages to spark the debates that it is perfectly placed to talk about. It is full of humour, is uplifting, is packed with social commentary, it talks about sex and relationships, and it’s also a thriller – it has everything.

But let’s focus on the thing that everyone wants to talk about…

The Sex!

It is “graphic” in it’s descriptions of sex, depending on your frame of reference, because it depends on what you’re used to. I mean, I’ve read Oscar Wilde’s Telany – this books ain’t got nothing on that! I didn’t find it especially graphic but it is a book for teenagers, and has teenagers characters and going into it readers should be aware of the graphic nature of some sexual descriptions. If that isn’t your thing, don’t read it.

Some reviewers have commented that they didn’t find the book realistic, because “sensible” teenagers don’t behave like the characters. I know trashing teenagers is a bloodsport that so many people love, but let’s give it a rest. Just because you like sex does not mean you’re not “sensible”. Just because you drink or go to parties does not mean you’re not “sensible”. Yes, many of the characters do some questionable things that that occasionally regret in the morning (who doesn’t regret a raging hangover the next day!) but that is part of growing up and learning. It’s a part of learning that even us “sensible” adults are still doing in our 20s, 30s, 40s and beyond. At work I am surround by young people, in their late teens and early twenties. These are “sensible” young people who are studying at one of the best universities in the world, and while I have no idea of the intimate details (to the level of this book) of what they get up to in the privacy of their rooms, I can guarantee you that this book accurately represents what some teenagers are like.

Not all teenagers are the same, they are not one homogenous block and do not all have the same interests, desires, pastimes. They do not all need the same level of support.

Many MANY teenagers will not like this book (as, judging by some reviews on Goodreads, many adults will not either), but let’s stop pretending that teenagers aren’t like the characters in this book, and that many young people won’t identify with them.

It shouldn’t need to be said, but it seems it has to be time and again, that you don’t need to identify with a character –  and agree with everything they do – in order to enjoy a book. You don’t need to be like Jack in order to love this book (I managed it). There is so much more to this book than just graphic sex scenes, so I’m going to move on now.

Being Safe

This book repeatedly brings up the subject of consent, and works through the layers of it really well. It talks about not being pressured by society to have sex just because everyone else seems to be doing it. It talks about not being pressured by a partner to do anything that you’re not 100% comfortable with. It talks about how sex should be a constant dialogue, making sure that you are both comfortable with what is happening at all times, and how it’s okay to stop at any point if you don’t feel comfortable.

There are moments when some characters don’t behave with much thought for their safety, such as getting so drunk they don’t remember how they got home. I’ve already addressed above how situations such as this do happen as part of human growth (and don’t just happen to teenagers), and I found parts like this realistic and in keeping with the characters personality and approach to life.

Preach

A key aspect of this books success is that it somehow manages to preach a message, without feeling like the reader is being told what to do or think. The advice columns that Jack writes do feel like lessons, but they’re kinda supposed to due to what they are – the rest of the book manages to give the reader a sense of who these characters are, and the ways in which they mess up and try to fix things again, without it coming across like the author is giving a sermon.

Don’t be too gay

The most important aspect (for me) is how this book addresses homophobia – including the internalised homophobia of some gay characters. This was an absolute breath of fresh air in a book, and something that needs to be said loud so we can start to talk about it.

Too often, LBGTQ+ content is sanitised before it is allowed to be put out into the world, and this seems especially true in the past, and true of YA content. I hope that we are now turning a corner when we can be more honest about the lives of LGBTQ+ people, and our voices can be heard. However, we are far from out of the straight woods yet. In 2018 a gay film won an Oscar after it stripped out all but the merest hints of sex (yes, I know many people think Call Me By Your Name has a lot of sexual content, but read the book and then come and talk to me about how let down we were by the director). There is a sense in much LGBTQ+ media that we have received acceptance from the world when it comes to love, but only if we don’t talk about sex, only if we don’t conform to stereotypes, only if we are indistinguishable from everyone else in the straight cis world. Honestly, it’s exhausting!  It effectively puts LGBTQ+ people back into the closet, where they cannot be the true authentic versions of themselves.  What does this have to do with Jack of Hearts (and other parts)?  Well, that is something at the heart of the book, it is at it’s very core and runs throughout. Jack puts himself out into the world as someone who conforms to a lot of the stereotypes people have about gay men, and he struggles against both straight people and some gay people who think he “is giving gays a bad name”. Jack is being asked to change who he is, not for his own benefit, but for the benefit of a society that would rather gay men are quiet and never have sex (or certainly never talk about it).

I hope this book finds its way onto the YA shelves of bookshops, libraries, and schools – as well as into the hands of adults who will love it just as much. It’s an important book that needs to be read.


Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts) is out in the US and UK in eBook on 30th October 2018. It’s out in paperback in the UK in February 2019. You can preorder now:

Penguin in the UK
Little, Brown in the US
Worldwide (hardback)

 

September LGBTQ Book Haul

I recently spent an afternoon in the amazing Gay’s The Word and came home with a fantastic selection of 8 books to recommend you all. There were a few I went in deliberately to buy, but most gathered from browsing. I think I walked backwards and forwards around the shop a hundred times trying to decide what to leave behind, it was such a hard decision. Eventually we came home with a shoulder-aching haul that are my picks for September:

 

 

Fanny and Stella: The Young Men Who Shocked Victorian England by Neil McKenna
Non-Fiction/Biography

28th April 1870. The flamboyantly dressed Miss Fanny Park and Miss Stella Boulton are causing a stir in the Strand Theatre. All eyes are riveted upon their lascivious oglings of the gentlemen in the stalls. Moments later they are led away by the police. 
What followed was a scandal that shocked and titillated Victorian England in equal measure. It turned out that the alluring Miss Fanny Park and Miss Stella Boulton were no ordinary young women. Far from it. In fact, they were young men who liked to dress as women. 
When the Metropolitan Police launched a secret campaign to bring about their downfall, they were arrested and subjected to a sensational show trial in Westminster Hall. As the trial of ‘the Young Men in Women’s Clothes’ unfolded, Fanny and Stella’s extraordinary lives as wives and daughters, actresses and whores were revealed to an incredulous public. 
With a cast of peers, politicians and prostitutes, drag queens, doctors and detectives, “Fanny and Stella” is a Victorian peepshow, exposing the startling underbelly of nineteenth-century London. By turns tragic and comic, meticulously researched and dazzlingly written, “Fanny and Stella” is an enthralling tour-de-force.

 

Hild by Nicola Griffith
Historical Fiction

Britain in the seventh century – and the world is changing. Small kingdoms are merging, frequently and violently. Edwin, King of Northumbria, plots his rise to overking of all the Angles. Ruthless and unforgiving, he is prepared to use every tool at his disposal: blood, bribery, belief. Into this brutal, vibrant court steps Hild – Edwin’s youngest niece.

With her glittering mind and powerful curiosity, Hild has a unique way of reading the world. By studying nature, observing human behavior and matching cause with effect, she has developed the ability to make startlingly accurate predictions. It is a gift that can seem uncanny, even supernatural, to those around her.

It is also a valuable weapon. Hild is indispensable to Edwin – unless she should ever lead him astray. The stakes are life and death: for Hild, for her family, for her loved ones, and for the increasing numbers who seek the protection of the strange girl who can see the future and lead men like a warrior.

 

The Hungry Ghosts by Shyam Selvadurai
Fiction

In Sri Lankan myth, a person who dies may be reborn a “hungry ghost”–a ghost with a large stomach that can never be filled through its tiny mouth–if he has desired too much during his life. It is the duty of the living to free the dead who are doomed to this fate by transferring karma from their own good deeds. In Shyam Selvadurai’s masterful new novel, Shivan, a troubled young man of mixed Tamil and Sinhalese ancestry, is preparing to travel from Toronto, Canada, to the land of his childhood, Sri Lanka, to rescue his ailing grandmother and bring her back to die. But on the eve of his departure–as Shivan meditates on his turbulent past, recalls his gradual discovery of his homosexuality, and wrestles with his complicated relationship with the wily old woman–he discovers just how much his own heart’s desires are entwined with the volatile political, racial, and sexual mix of Sri Lanka’s past and present. In the end, Shivan must decide: will he rescue his grandmother, or join her?  The Hungry Ghosts is an unconventional exploration of the immigrant experience; a tale of family ties and the long reach of the past; and a heart-wrenching look at how racial, political, and sexual differences can tear apart a country, a family, and a human being.

 

Silhouette of a Sparrow by Molly Beth Griffin
YA Historical Fiction

In the summer of 1926, sixteen-year-old Garnet Richardson is sent to a lake resort to escape the polio epidemic in the city. She dreams of indulging her passion for ornithology and visiting the famous new amusement park–a summer of fun before she returns for her final year of high school, after which she’s expected to marry a nice boy and settle into middle-class homemaking. But in the country, Garnet finds herself under the supervision of equally oppressive guardians–her father’s wealthy cousin and the matron’s stuck-up daughter. Only a liberating job in a hat shop, an intense, secret relationship with a daring and beautiful flapper, and a deep faith in her own fierce heart can save her from the suffocating boredom of traditional femininity.

 

 

The Charioteer by Mary Renault
Fiction

Injured at Dunkirk, Laurie Odell, a young corporal, is recovering at a rural veterans’ hospital. There he meets Andrew, a conscientious objector serving as an orderly. The men find solace in each other’s friendship, which slowly develops into a covert, chaste romance. Then Ralph Lanyon appears, a mentor from Laurie’s school days, and now a naval officer. Through him, Laurie is drawn into a tight-knit circle of gay men with few illusions about life, and for whom liaisons are fleeting. He is forced to choose between the ideals of a perfect friendship and the pleasures of experience. 

First published in 1953, The Charioteer is a a tender, intelligent coming-of-age novel and a bold, unapologetic portrayal of homosexuality

 

Fighting Proud: The Untold Story of the Gay Men Who Served in Two World Wars by Stephen Bourne
Non-Fiction/History

Unearthing the stories of the gay men who served in the armed forces and at home, and bringing to light the great unheralded contribution they made to the war effort. Fighting Proud weaves together the remarkable lives of these men, from RAF hero Ian Gleed – a Flying Ace twice honoured for bravery by King George VI – to the infantry officers serving in the trenches on the Western Front in WWI – many of whom led the charges into machine-gun fire only to find themselves court-marshalled after the war for indecent behaviour. Behind the lines, Alan Turing’s work on breaking the -enigma machine- and subsequent persecution contrasts with the many stories of love and courage in Blitzed-out London, with new wartime diaries and letters unearthed for the first time. Bourne tells the bitterly sad story of Ivor Novello, who wrote the WWI anthem -Keep the Home Fires Burning, – and the crucial work of Noel Coward – who was hated by Hitler for his work entertaining the troops. Fighting Proud also includes a wealth of long-suppressed wartime photography.

 

Moonstruck, Volume One: Magic to Brew by Grace Ellis & Shae Beagle
Fantasy/Graphic Novel

Werewolf barista Julie and her new girlfriend go on a date to a close-up magic show, but all heck breaks loose when the magician casts a horrible spell on their friend Chet. Now it’s up to the team of mythical pals to stop the illicit illusionist before it’s too late.

 

 

 

 

The Flower Beneath The Foot by Ronald Firbank
Fiction/Satire

At the fantastical court of King Willie and Her Dreaminess the Queen of Pisuerga, maid of honour Laura de Nazianzi and His Weariness Prince Yousef whisper promises to each other in the palace gardens. But Laura is destined for disappointment. The King and Queen have plans for a royal wedding for their Prince, and the young woman in their sights is none other than Princess Elsie of England. The court is all aflutter.

First published in 1923, Ronald Firbank’s The Flower Beneath the Foot is a flamboyant court satire and lyrical tour de force of innuendo and eccentricity. Read by many as a subversive celebration of homosexuality, this is a classic of modernist literature from a stylist like no other.

 

All these books are available from Gay’s The Word. I’m starting with some novel research and reading Fighting Proud – if you’ve read any of these let me know what you thought.

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